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Lally Katz's psychic odyssey


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Playwright Lally Katz spent two years so obsessed with New York fortune tellers that she lost track of the number of times she flew between Australia and America to visit them. And don’t ask how much it cost.

“I even offered them money just to spend time with them and not do the psychic work, but they said no,” she says, laughing.

It may sound a little, well, whacky. But Katz is no naïve traveller; she’s a respected writer for stage and screen, with her works including the acclaimed Neighbourhood Watch, presented this year by the State Theatre Company of SA with Miriam Margolyes in the lead role.

Katz was originally in New York to research and write a play about the global financial crisis, under commission by Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre.

“I did write the play – they just didn’t like it!” she tells InDaily, clearing up any misconception that she may have gone completely AWOL.

“I put the psychics in the play but they didn’t want that play; they just wanted me to talk about the psychics on stage.”

The suggestion was daunting for Katz, who is used to creating characters, not playing them. But she went back to the drawing board and came up with the one-woman show Stories I Want to Tell You in Person, which will be presented in Adelaide later this month by Brink Productions and is also being adapted by ABC Arts for a two-part television show.

Part comedy, part drama, it recounts aspects of her life’s journey with a particular focus on the period when she was infatuated with the psychics. As well as playing herself, Katz channels a number of other characters, including Ana from Neighbourhood Watch, but the main focus is the fortune tellers Cookie and Bella.

The story (or stories) began after a blizzard one wintry night in New York. Katz, who had been travelling by herself for a while on a Churchill Fellowship, was sitting inside an apartment feeling lonely and heartbroken (“I’m always in a semi state of heartbreak”). It stopped snowing, and she decided to go out for a walk in the East Village.

“I was thinking, ‘What’s going to happen in my life? How am I going to work out how to find love’ … I always think that if I find love, I won’t be able to write any more.

“And then I look up and there’s this warm glowing light. It says ‘psychic readings’ in the window. I see this psychic and she smiles at me and I think ‘ah-ah!’”.

The fortune teller, Cookie, did her reading and promised she could have it all – kids, partner, career, the lot.

“Everything you’ve ever dreamed of is yours but there’s one thing standing in your way – and that is a curse,” Katz says, in Cookie’s broad New York accent.

“In order to have all my dreams, I have to pay this large sum of money [$1200] to remove the curse.”

Cookie was so convincing that Katz immediately headed off to organise payment, but a shopkeeper dissuaded her from returning. She went home to Melbourne and met a partner, but when things went awry, she returned to New York to visit Cookie again – thus beginning the two-year odyssey of long haul flights and fortune tellers.


Katz acknowledges that many of the methods employed by the fortune tellers she saw were probably illegal, and admits that as a playwright, she thought Cookie would be a wonderful character for a script. But she also genuinely liked her, and the compulsion to return felt irresistible.

“I believe she’s a crook but I also believe she’s magic and I don’t want to be cursed by her. I felt that if I didn’t go back, I would be cursed forever.”

In essence, she says, Stories I Want to Tell You in Person is about one woman’s quest to have it all.

While Katz admits she still finds the idea of performing terrifying, once she’s on stage she feels at home.

“It’s been great. It’s really changed my life … I’ve gone from never performing to performing all the time, which is fun but a bit different.”

Life is certainly never dull for Katz, who is currently adapting Neighbourhood Watch for a film for director Gillian Armstrong, has plays being produced next year at Sydney’s Belvoir Street and Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre, and is also working with Brink Productions’ artistic director Chris Drummond on a collaboration that may see her on stage again.

But the question remains, did the New York psychics help her find love?

“For a time! If I’d kept going back and paying them more, it might have worked …”

Lally Katz’s Stories I Want to Tell You in Person will play at the Bakehouse Theatre in Adelaide from October 29 until November 8.

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